When free agency opened, the Flyers’ most glaring immediate organizational need was an upgrade at third-line center, so when they struck loudly with left wing James van Riemsdyk and departed the market without signing a center, the hole remained unfilled.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall drew a line in the sand and proved he would not cross it. Hextall admitted the Flyers were in on a center, but the term went past his boundary. He also said they identified four or five forwards who were at their line. van Riemsdyk was one of them.
Hextall did not want to make a lateral move at 3C or block prospects. He felt the Flyers could fill it from within. He specifically mentioned Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal as options and opened the door for Claude Giroux to return to center after posting a career year as a left winger in 2017-18.
When asked about two prospects, Morgan Frost and Mikhail Vorobyev, Hextall turned to the safety net of “we’ll see.” Hextall has stuck to his guns with his prospects. They have to earn their spots, and while Hextall has been ultra conservative with the prospects, he has placed three 19-year-olds on the opening night roster in the past two seasons.
While Hextall refused to put Frost or Vorobyev on the roster without them earning it, by saying he’s comfortable with his internal options, it suggests that the Flyers are banking on either Frost or Vorobyev to push hard in training camp.
With the Flyers opting against signing a third-line center, at least for now, Frost’s odds of making the opening night roster in 2018-19 have significantly increased if only because there is now a clear path for the 2017 first-round draft pick.
“I think my opinion is different than other people,” Frost said last Thursday at development camp in Voorhees, New Jersey. “I want to make the team. If I work my hardest, it’s realistic.”
That was before free agency opened and before Hextall conceded that the market dictated the Flyers’ best course of action for a third-line center comes internally. It’s certainly realistic now.
Once Hextall sifted through the “we’ll see” on Frost, the Flyers’ GM put the ball in the 19-year-old’s court. Hextall said Frost has to get “a lot stronger” and has “work to do,” which Frost knows. Frost came into development camp considerably stronger than he was last season at 184 pounds, a 12-pound increase from where he was at this point last summer. Frost finished the 2017-18 season at 175 pounds and said he hopes to play above 180 pounds in 2018-19.
“He’s certainly stronger than he was a year ago,” Hextall said. “He’s got a couple months here. He’s certainly got some work to do.”
Strength is the one area holding Frost back as his overall skill set very well may be NHL ready. Frost has two months to gain more muscle before training camp opens in September, which considering he’s already up nine pounds from his end-of-season weight, is possible.
Take Travis Konecny, for example. Konecny showed up to the Flyers’ July development camp in 2016 listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds. By training camp, Konecny added about nine pounds to reach 185 and made the team as a 19-year-old. It could be a similar course for Frost.
It’s about adding the right weight, which Flyers director of player development Kjell Samuelsson said is part of the team’s teaching methods. Frost appears to have added the right weight as his frame was noticeably more mature than it was last summer, but the Flyers will not know for certain until the competition escalates come September.
“Everyone can see that, everyone knows that,” Frost said. “I need to get a lot stronger and I think that comes with eating and working out. I think it’s just trying to eat as often as you can, even if it’s little, small meals instead of having your breakfast, lunch, dinner.”
By now, everyone knows about Frost’s draft-plus-1 season. He finished second in the OHL behind Barrie’s Aaron Luchuk with 112 points in 67 games, posting 42 goals and 70 assists for an absurd 1.69 points-per-game clip. He led the league in plus/minus with a plus-70 rating. He won 52.2 percent of his faceoffs, taking 466 more draws than he did in 2016-17.
Advanced metrics in junior hockey are hard to find and come from independent sources such as The Athletic’s Mitch Brown. Brown tracked 17 of the top teams in junior hockey across the CHL and USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL games only), and while it’s a small sample size, it’s advanced data that we can use.
Frost was among the players tracked, though the data includes just eight Sault Ste. Marie games, so for Frost, it’s an extremely small sample. Still, he posted a 65 percent Corsi relative and both his controlled entry percentage (92) and controlled exit percentage (96) were strong.
“He learned a little bit to play a 200-foot game,” Samuelsson said. “Most of the players who score points like that, when they come into the professional world, that’s the thing they really have to work on — playing without the puck.”
The Greyhounds finished atop the OHL and it wasn’t even close. Sault Ste. Marie finished the regular season with 116 points, a campaign that included a 23-game winning streak. Frost was a major factor in the Soo’s success and compiled 43 points over a 20-game point streak himself.
One Flyers prospect who knows Frost from playing against him in the OHL is Isaac Ratcliffe, who’s a member of the Guelph Storm.
“He just knows the game so well,” Ratcliffe said. “He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with and played against. … The passes he makes — he won’t have to see a guy across the ice, he’ll just know he’s there. The puck always seems to find his stick no matter where he is on the ice. I know he’s going to be a top player in the NHL one day.”
One day could be as soon as this October. By the looks of it, it’ll all be up to Frost.